History Roundup: The Stono Rebellion

BY Sarah Dowdey / POSTED February 25, 2011
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Slave rebellion

This week, Deblina and I continued our coverage of Black History Month with a story of rebellion, one that historian Junius P. Rodriguez called the “single most important African slave revolt in the history of what would become the United States.”

I’d heard of the Stono Rebellion in school, but I don’t think I ever learned what a dramatic part it played in shaping the future of slavery — changing not only the slave code but the way white South Carolinians saw their slaves. It’s a sad story, especially considering it takes place in 1739, with more than a century of slavery to come.

But it’s also interesting to discuss a rebellion that, while clearly so influential, has only one eyewitness account attached to it, plus a couple contemporary secondhand reports. That leaves a lot of open space for debate, most of it centered on what seems like an obvious question: Why did the slaves revolt in the first place?

There are reasons enough if you consider the life of a South Carolina slave. The work (mostly growing rice) was hard, the climate was bad, and the treatment was especially harsh, partly because of the colony’s racial imbalance. But some historians like William Thornton have also traced causes back to Africa, specifically to the Angolan coast, where things like religion and language could have been the basis for an unlikely alliance across the ocean. Listen and let us know what you think.

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